After leading an assault on civil liberties and privacy in his Administration (as well as blocking efforts to prosecute Bush officials for torture), President Barack Obama may just be the last person who should be giving advice on training lawyers. Yet, Obama told lawyers last Friday that he would like to see law school cut by one-third to reduce time studying legal principles and history. Of course, given the number of constitutional provisions that Obama has effectively negated, it may take less time to study the remaining laws after the Obama years. Before law schools follow his lead to a fast-food version of legal education, we need to ask what we want in our lawyers. The President would reduce legal training to a program slightly longer than current paralegal schools.
Obama told an audience at Binghamton University in New York : “This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck, I’m in my second term so I can say it. I believe, for example, that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years—because by the third year—in the first two years young people are learning in the classroom,” Obama said. “The third year they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren’t getting paid that much. But that step alone would reduce the cost for the student.”
Now, I have little doubt that an attorney carrying out the Obama policies could get by with even a year of law school. Indeed, you only have to read Article II according to Obama to understand that the president can basically do whatever he wants, including killing any citizens he deems to be a threat.
I have long been a critic of the push for a two-year law school curriculum. It is being proposed as a way to maintain revenue and application levels for law schools. However, it minimizes what is (in my view) necessary to train a fully informed professional in this field. I am highly critical of current programs that omit legal history and legal theory in the training of lawyers. Instead, many schools simply train lawyers like glorified accountants; people who know how to file actions but have little understanding of philosophy and purpose of the law. If the President gets his way, law schools would simply train to the bar exam like a trade school. Offering such courses as electives is nothing more than pretense. With only two years, students will barely have time to take basic courses of torts, criminal law, contracts, civil procedures, constitutional law, and other basic courses. These basic courses extend into the second year where students often take just one or two electives. The just of the time goes to evidence, administrative law, environmental law and the other fundamental areas of study. If you want to add a meaningful clinical experience (which most law schools are seeking to offer) that would cut down your academic courses even further or you would have to forego clinical courses.
Some argue that most lawyers do not use legal theory in their careers. However, this ignores that such training make for lawyers who understand not just the expression but purpose and history of the law. At issue is what type of lawyers we want in our society. The two year proposal represents a fundamental change — reducing lawyers to the lowest common denominator of education. The problem is that this factory approach to education will represent a short term windfall for schools and unleash a race to the bottom. In the end, all legal education will be cheapened and we will flood the country with even more minimally trained lawyers.
For the President to add his voice to this movement is a disgrace. It appears that Obama is not satisfied with the harm done to constitutional law and now advocates the reduction of legal training. His advocacy will have an effect on some bar members and presents a serious danger to legal education in this country. We are facing one of the greatest challenges to our profession in a century. We will either remain committed to the training of a fully educated lawyer or turn toward the type of trade school that the President seems to invite. Whatever we do, this is a conversation that should be confined to those who respect the law, not violate it. That would exclude our president from the conversation.
Source: Legal Times